Kazakhstan (MNN) — The lower chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament has passed new legislation that would impose severe new restrictions on foreign missionary activity and evangelical churches.
According to Rev. Franz Tissen, president of the Kazakh Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, the bill contains a number of troubling provisions. It would:
* Establish quotas of missionaries allowed in Kazakhstan's cities, capital, and regions.
* Forbid missionary activity by foreign workers without registration; this also includes those who are not representatives of religious organizations.
* Forbid distribution of religious objects, spiritual literature and other informational material with religious content to citizens in public places, public transportation, on the street or in private homes unless the person receiving the literature initiates the contact and agrees to receive the literature.
* Forbid the acceptance of financial and other donations by religious organizations from anonymous or foreign citizens and organizations.
* Forbid religious activities, meetings or gatherings with children under the age of 18 without written agreement from both parents or legal guardians.
Slavic Gospel Association's Joel Griffith says, "When you read the language of this proposed bill, it does seem like they are really starting to tighten the screws. It remains to be seen just how far this is going to go."
Griffith thinks the government is getting paranoid about evangelical Christians. "In the mindset in some of the culture and some of the leadership, they often will see protestant or evangelical communities or foreign missionaries as western agents, which really isn't the case."
There's also another influence. Griffith says, "After the Soviet Union first broke apart, Kazakhstan was pretty close to equally divided between ethnic Russians and Kazaks. But it's pretty much a Muslim majority within Kazakhstan now."
In addition to these provisions, the proposed bill takes aim at the activities and registration of religious groups that have only a small number of members. It would sharply restrict the right to publish religious literature and would also make it more difficult for a small group to obtain their own place for worship or to preach outside of the group itself. Pastor Tissen said, "This is an absolute intrusion into the inner lives of believers, and limits us by laws and fines as we work to fulfill the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ. I appeal to all believers to join us in fasting and praying for the work of God in Kazakhstan."
Griffith says, "This has gone through the lower house of the Kazakh parliament. It still has to be acted on by the upper chamber as well as the president before it becomes law."
Whatever happens, Griffith says the church will remain. "We know that our God is sovereign. He's promised in His Word that He will continue to build His church. And in the long run, it really doesn't matter what man or the enemy tries to do. He will build His church, and His purposes will not be thwarted. And I have no doubt in my mind that Kazak churches will continue to proclaim the Gospel."
SGA is an interdenominational mission working in the former Soviet Union since 1934. SGA serves churches in the lands of Russia by sponsoring seminaries and Bible institutes, pastor and lay leader training, provision of Russian-language Christian literature, and sponsorship of national church planters. SGA is the official representative of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (UECB) and a sponsor of the Eurasian Federation of the Evangelical Christians-Baptists.